Slate Takes On Crispin

Over at Slate, ad critic Seth Stevenson takes a look at Crispin’s ads, and their effect as a whole:

It’s not personal. Every Crispin employee I’ve ever spoken with has been friendly and likable. And it has nothing to do with how effective or ineffective Cripin’s ads are as sales tools. The jury’s still out on that.
No, my distaste is purely aesthetic. Crispin ads annoy me. And I’m not alone. Every time some new Crispin spot airs on TV, my inbox fills with mail from readers who are disgusted, offended, or just generally skeeved out. For example, consider the zombie Orville Redenbacher popcorn spot (reader comment: “It is one of the most horrible, stomach-turning ads I have ever seen”), or the paleo-masculine “I Am Man” Burger King spot (reader comment: “Can it get any stupider? ‘Chick food’? Throwing a minivan off an overpass? Why not just show footage of Haditha with some CG product placement?”), or the ongoing BK campaign featuring the mute, plastic-headed “King” character (reader comment: “I like BK but the king is the creepiest thing ever to appear on TV and I know many people who suffer from nightmares thanks to him and these ads”).

Then he goes on to talk about the predominance of “frat guy” ads Crispin does:

Crispin also appears to have a strange obsession with dictating the bounds of male identity. In the “Un-pimp Your Ride” spots for VW, a somewhat cruel protagonist ridicules young men who dare to seek self-expression through the art of modifying their cars. In the “Making Things Right” campaign for Haggar, two middle-aged guys gruffly rule their suburban neighborhood—advocating physical force against any young men who dare to wear earrings, or listen to rap music, or date your daughter. And then there’s that Man Law campaign for Miller, where the concept achieves its most literal form.
I hate this kind of subjugating, behavior-circumscribing, frat-guy approach to humor. I realize it appeals to a certain target demographic (i.e., fratty guys of all ages). But it repels almost everyone else. And there’s a danger in that.

What’s interesting here is that when sites like Slate, or like USA Today every Monday, do a review of recent ad campaign, they rarely focus in on the canon of one agency.
I know it’s old news for us, because we dissect Crispin’s every move, but it’s rare to read in the general media about an agency’s particular style and its impact on the culture.
Should more agencies strive to create their own “style” and then find clients that’ll fit in? ‘Cause most ad agencies are all over the board stylistically and tonally, depending on who the client is.

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. Their ability to annoy means their work is being heard above the din. Which is a good problem to have in this line of work.

  2. Any ads that result in this much dialog & news coverage is a sign of success on C P + B’s behalf. C P + B is like the celebrity of agencies; they do shocking things that keep them relevant. At least they pulled the Jumper ads…

  3. i don’t know anyone at CP +B. Know a guy who interned there a couple years ago. he talked about how hard everyone worked and how late all the creatives stayed trying to outdo each other. Can’t hate on that.
    But the biz has such a circle jerk mentality about what’s good, who’s good, etc. that we deluded the issue of if you’re getting more press and praise than you’re getting for your clients, something might be wrong.
    to be fair, there are so few usp’s left these days that sometimes, the agency is in fact the unique selling prop, but still.
    hot for the sake of hot really isn’t. it also further perpetuates much of the inbred thinking and standards we get. if a bunch of psuedo hipsters say something’s great, then who cares what the consumers or the non-hipsters think?

  4. When CBP was selling their ridiculous chicken masks, Seth Stevenson complained about getting emails from “anonymous” sources, obviously CPB employees, letting him know about this particular campaign extension.
    What’s interesting to me is that this kind of non-industry press is obviously currency inside the agency.
    It’s not only the creative’s job to create, but to generate buzz and PR for the campaigns they make. Whereever, however they can.
    That’s the difference between CPB employees and everyone else: the job is only half done once it’s been concepted, bought and executed.

  5. so are you saying that it’s not enough to sell the product, you now have to sell “the selling of the product”, too?
    If that’s what you’re getting at, then that’s an interesting point. it’s also unnerving. the notion that great creative combined with smart media buys can beis being outdone by “hey everybody, look how cool our work is!” angling is kinda sad in my book.
    it seems like an extra job to me. If focusing on the consumer is second to courting critics, insiders, most of whom spend way too much time talk down to consumers and ignoring various segments until the have no choice but to acknowledge them, then the biz is in worse shape than i thought.

  6. My biggest beef with Crispin themselves is the one-strategy-fits-all approach.
    My biggest beef about Crispin is how the trades fawn over every single thing they do, good or not.
    I think we’re seeing the real Crispin backlash: clients leaving. Right or wrong, Miller’s a big blow.

  7. Hadji.
    What’s “sad” about the PR’ing of the campaigns is that it’s all for the Case Study/Awards Show video. THAT’s what wins new business and awards.
    And that’s what Bogusky has said he wants to do: make culture.
    And how do you measure culture-making? By non-industry press.
    Ergo creatives emailing Seth Stevenson, pretending to be regular consumers trying to convince him that this chicken mask is a NEWS story, not an ADVERTISING story.
    And who can blame them?
    Problem is, from this last article, it sounds like CPB is experiencing a little blowback from their hamfisted attempts to manipulate a journalist who doesn’t want to suck Bogusky cock.

  8. Bogusky cock? i smell another CP+B quirky charicature-driven ad campaign…
    but yeah, i totally agree. you have to do something intrisically cool before people will tolerate you running around screaming about how cool you are.
    and if you gotta say it, you ain’t really doing it; and sooner or later, you’ll get ignored or ripped out-right.
    time will tell which is going on with the florida boys club